Oct 20, 2004 10:35am
Is Somebody Crossing The Threshold From Politican To Statesman?
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
$150 Million Hike Likely for Public Schools
By Barry Massey
The Associated Press
SANTA FE— Gov. Bill Richardson's administration likely will propose that state spending for public schools increase by about $150 million next year, lawmakers were told Tuesday.
In testimony to a legislative committee, Education Secretary Veronica Garcia said the Public Education Department's budget proposal had not been completed but she estimated it would call for an increase in state aid of more than 8 percent in the next fiscal year.
The Legislature convenes in January for a 60-day session and one of its main assignments is to approve a budget to pay for public schools, higher education and state programs ranging from prisons to health care for the poor and children in lower-income families.
In the current budget year, which runs through June 2005, the state will provide about $2 billion to public schools and some related education programs— an increase of about 6 percent from the previous fiscal year. Typically, public schools account for just under half of spending from the state's main budget account.
Garcia previewed the department's budget proposal in testimony to the Legislative Finance Committee, which will make spending recommendations to the full Legislature.
Garcia offered few details about spending levels the governor would recommend to the Legislature, but she said the administration would propose a change in a newly enacted fine arts program for elementary schools.
The department will provide about $17 million this year for arts programs across the state, but state law calls for an increase in a school finance formula factor for the programs next year.
Garcia said the administration will ask the Legislature to keep the funding factor at its current level. Without the change, an additional $11 million will be needed for arts programs, according to Don Moya, deputy secretary for finance and operations.
The arts program law was enacted in 2003, and the Legislature provided for the funding formula increase to phase in arts programs across the state over three years. However, the department accelerated implementation and made arts financing available statewide this year, Garcia said.
The fine arts money is distributed to school districts through a formula that allocates state aid to try to ensure an equal educational opportunity for students despite differences in local financial resources.
Former Representative Max Coll, a Santa Fe Democrat who retired earlier this year, testified before the committee and urged his colleagues to impose tighter controls on arts funding to make certain districts spend the money on arts— not other educational operations.
According to Moya, the department will be auditing and reviewing arts program expenditures.